General Atomics has created and tested a prototype of a lethal new Drone with substantially more firepower than the US military’s current unmanned aircraft inventory, including the ability to shoot 16 Hellfire missiles. According to two persons familiar with the operation, the unmanned aircraft system, whose presence had previously gone unnoticed, took to the skies for the first time this summer at the company’s Desert Horizon test facilities in the Mohave Desert.
The new Drone, which was paid for with internal funds, has several improvements that make it more suitable for harsh environments. According to one report, the aircraft can take off and land in less than 800 feet, making it possible to launch and retrieve it from challenging airfields, dirt roads, dry riverbeds, and maybe even onboard ships. In addition, its maximum capacity of 16 Hellfire missiles is quadruple that of the MQ-1C Grey Eagle’s Hellfire loadout and four times that of the MQ-9 Reaper’s average payload.
The Drone ability to take off closer to a fight and immediately unleash some of its missiles, according to the manufacturer, compensates for the loss by reducing the aircraft’s weight and extending the time it can stay in the air. The name and designation of the new have not been revealed, but according to the sources, General Atomics plans to provide photographs and details of the device by the end of the year.